Who will win the Championship?

The Championship is always one of the most exciting leagues in the world and is always one of the hardest to predict.

The relegated teams have a good chance of going straight back if they can keep hold of their best players and as we have seen in previous seasons sometimes the teams that get promoted into the league carry on their momentum and get a second promotion on the bounce.

The favourites to win the league are Harry Redknapp’s QPR and he does have experience of leading a team to the Premier League in Portsmouth so does know what it is all about and will surely get more out of his team than he did last year. The signings he has made so far have been very good and they will definitely be committed to the cause. Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson are both good enough defenders to still be in the Premier League. Karl Henry will add steel to the midfield and Charlie Austin is a proven goal scorer at this level.

Reading only had one season in the Premier League but they have got rid of quite a few of the players that helped them to promotion the last time but they have brought in some good players themselves that have Champions League experience in the shape of Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe. Nigel Adkins is a good manager and I feel that he will get the team playing decent football and will be right near the top of the table come the end of the season.

Bolton Wanderers will be hoping for a better year than last year and will hope that Dougie Freedman can do what he started at Crystal Palace in the early part of the season. He has made some strange choices in my opinion letting Marvin Sordell got out on loan when he has proved his ability in the Championship before. But in his defence he has replaced him with Jermaine Beckford who will be looking to prove some of his doubters wrong. Alex Baptiste, Marc Tierney and Andre Moritz are also solid signings.

Whether you agree with what they did last season you have to give Gianfranco Zola and Watford credit for getting the team together and playing as well as they did straight away. It looks like it is a similar story this year but using a slightly different loophole to bring in the players that they want from their owners ‘parent’ clubs. But the most exciting signing they have made in my opinion is Lewis McGugan because he has a decent goalscoring record and will be hoping that he can add something to the already talented team.

The team that I personally think will win the league are Wigan Athletic. The signings new manager Owen Coyle has made are already really consistent players, they may not grab the headlines but they do everything that is asked of them. James Perch, Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann all fall into this category. Then they have brought in more attacking players that will definitely get goals in Grant Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune. Also Scott Carson will be a brilliant goalkeeper and could get the most clean sheets. The only worry I have is if their campaign in Europe takes too much out of them.

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Who will be the Championship’s top scorer?

Kevin Doyle may not have scored enough goals to keep Wolves in the Premier League but he will be hoping to fire them back there. The last time he played in the Championship he scored 18 goals in 42 games which is a very good record and if he can replicate that sort of form then he will surely come close to being top goal scorer. In my opinion he owes Wolves as he has only scored 21 goals in 102 games and that has not been good enough and only scoring 4 of them in the league last season is one of the reasons they got relegated.

New Cardiff City signing Heidar Helguson will also be hoping to score a lot of goals in the coming season and at least get them into the playoffs. Helguson is probably slightly frustrated that he is not still in the Premier League as he scored nine times in just 16 games for QPR last season. However, he is 34 now and his best years may be past him and the last time he was in the Championship he only scored 13 goals in 34 games. I think he will be vital to Cardiff this year but will only be an outsider for the Golden Boot trophy.

Jermaine Beckford may have only got nine league goals last year but I think he could get a lot more this season with Leicester possibly pushing for an automatic promotion place. Last season was his first full one in the Championship but he has had a full season in the Premier League so maybe he should have performed slightly better but now he has a good understanding with strike partner David Nugent he could score the same amount of goals he did in League 1.

Huddersfield Town star man Jordan Rhodes has to be a consideration because in my opinion with the way that he plays the game he will score goals at all levels. He has fantastic movement and scores all types of goals which will mean he will be a marked man but if he is given the service he will put away his chances. There are rumours that he could be leaving for Blackburn Rovers and this would only help him to score more goals but even if he stays at Huddersfield I expect him to get over 15 goals.

Finally, Craig Bellamy has to be considered an outsider because he has proved he can score goals in this division in his previous spell on loan at Cardiff City. He will be doing all he can to get his hometown club promoted and what better way to do it than score the most goals in the division. The 33 year old has never reached 20 goals but this could be the year that he does it and he will no doubt prove to be a fantastic signing but if he can add the goals to his game then he will be the signing of the season.

Who will win the Championship?

Bolton Wanderers are one of the favourites to be promoted straight back to the Premier League and it is clear to see why. They have kept the majority of the squad from last year and in my opinion it should have been good enough to survive in the Premier League. At the back they have Zat Knight who is a capable defender and David Wheater and new signing Matt Mills so they are covered there. In midfield they have the returning pair of Lee Chung Yong and Stuart Holden combined with the quality of Mark Davies and Chris Eagles they should be able to control most games with these players. The only position they are struggling with slightly is in attack as they seem to lack a consistent goal scorer but I have high hopes for both Marvin Sordell and Benik Afobe this season.

Last year many people believed that Leicester City would walk the title and would be preparing for a season in the Premier League right now but unfortunately for them it didn’t quite work out and a lot of their bigger names didn’t perform their best. Now, with Nigel Pearson back in charge they look set to be contenders once again. Both David Nugent and Jermaine Beckford can score goals in this division and Wes Morgan marshalling the defence I expect a much better showing from them this year.

Neil Warnock has got QPR and Sheffield United promoted to the Premier League in the past and will now be hoping to work his magic at Leeds United. The only problem I see with backing Leeds is the fact that they keep losing their best players and the ones that can produce a bit of magic like Robert Snodgrass but nevertheless they do still have payers like Ross McCormack (who is actually linked with a move away) and Luciano Becchio who can score all types of goals so they will be challengers.

Wolves were just awful towards the end of last season and that will have hurt their players and they will be hoping to bounce back to their best this season and give the fans something to cheer about. They could be losing three of their better players though before the transfer window with Michael Kightly already leaving and both Steven Fetcher and Matt Jarvis being linked with Premier League clubs it may not be so easy. Also the team will have to get to grips with what Stale Solbakken or it will be another season of disappointment and they may get stuck in the Championship for a number of years.

Finally, the third team that were relegated from the Premier League, Blackburn Rovers also make my shortlist and it was a difficult decision on whether to include them because they have someone in charge that seems to be a very poor manager but in his defence he has brought in some good signings and that’s what is making me think they could win the title. Danny Murphy could prove to be the signing of the season in the Championship and lead them back to the Premier League.

Who should be the next Leeds United manager?

Leeds are looking for a new manager after club chairman Ken Bates decided to sack Simon Grayson even though the club are only four points away from the playoffs. Leeds are a massive club and should be aiming for promotion but they have to be more realistic and Grayson has done a good job especially as this is only their second season back in the Championship.

Grayson dealt with a few problems during his time at the club and lost key players like Bradley Johnson and Jermaine Beckford who would have added more quality to the squad. He never seemed to complain too much about the boards transfer policies even when club captain Jonny Howson was sold in the last transfer window. The former Leeds player had a very impressive record as manager winning almost 50% of his games in charge of the club and it is difficult to see who will replace him and do a better job.

But there are a few candidates with Neil Warnock now available he would seem like one of the favourites to take the post. However, his connections to Sheffield United may put him off the idea of managing Leeds. But, he has a tremendous record in the Championship and can get teams promoted as he has shown with both United and more recently QPR. He would not be a popular choice though as the Leeds fans have never really liked Warnock and I can’t see them taking to him unless he produced instant success.

Lee Clark is another man linked with the job as he has done tremendously well with Huddersfield in League 1 yet again this season but one thing that would worry Leeds is even though he gets praised for the way his team play football and avoid defeats, he still hasn’t guided them to a promotion which is remarkable as they went 43 games undefeated. The best managers make brave decisions to win games but it seems like Clark would rather take a point than risk going for all three.

Former Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies should also be considered for the job because he seems to get the best out of players and his teams always finish near the top of the table and it is not surprising when he leaves a club they begin to deteriorate. Forest were finishing in the playoffs every season under Davies but now he has left they are struggling in the Championship. He also overachieved at Preston and also led them to the playoffs.

So, Warnock would be a very good choice but not a popular one with the fans however success brings popularity and if he got them promoted then there wouldn’t be a single Leeds fan complaining. I would like to see Davies get the job because he wasn’t treated fairly at Forest and with the right backing he will make Leeds into a team that challenges for promotion. Also if he gets Leeds into the Premier League he will have a better chance of keeping them up than with his previous club Derby County.

Haven’t we seen you before… David Nugent

David Nugent now at Leicester City was one of the hottest prospects in the Championship when he was at Preston but for some reason maybe poor decision making on his part his career fell away but now under Nigel Pearson he might just be getting his career back on track.

In March 2007 he must have been in dreamland when he made his debut and scored in the last minute for England against Andorra but since then this dream has turned into a nightmare. He left Preston that summer for Portsmouth for £6 million and was finally realising his ambition of playing in the Premier League. But his move to the south coast was a complete disaster and in the same transfer window he was already linked with a move away from the club which shows that something wasn’t right and he didn’t exactly fit in at Pompey for one reason or another. It took him 18 months to score his first goal in the league for the club and ironically it was against the man that signed him Harry Redknapp, he then followed this up with two more goals towards the end of the season but it still didn’t change the fact that he was a poor signing and was a failure. However, in his defence he is a striker and does all of his good work up top chasing the ball down and latching onto through balls but for Portsmouth he was played on the right wing and therefore his opportunities to score were clearly limited.

He then left the club on loan to join Burnley and enjoyed moderate success with six goals in his 30 Premier League games but under Brian Laws the team were relegated and left Nugent in limbo as to whether he would be joining permanently or staying at Portsmouth. In the end he stayed at Portsmouth and had his best season for a long time ending the campaign as their top scorer but he decided to leave the club that summer for Leicester City where he has again had a decent season and looks like he is getting back to the levels he was at when he was called up to the national squad.

In his role as the pantomime villain away to Southampton, he produced arguably his best performance for many years, constantly terrorising the Saints defence by running at them and linking up well with strike partner Jermaine Beckford. He showed tremendous pace throughout the game and scored the opening goal with a clinical finish from just outside the box. There is no doubt in his mind what he was going to do when he picked up the ball on the left wing and cut inside, he expertly curled the ball into the corner leaving goalkeeper Kelvin Davis with no chance.

He is never going to get back into the England squad but it is nice to see players that have struggled for a while get back to their best and he can always be proud of his one cap one goal record for England.